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Guide to Dubai Hazel Byrne

The Taste Guide: The Alternative Guide to Dubai for Foodies

Hazel Byrne gives us the ultimate guide to Dubai for food lovers, which includes some non-traditional, food-related activities and eats you’re sure to love

Dubai is a city of contrasts, where extravagance and humility coexist. It transcends being a mere melting pot and with 90% of its population being expats, it’s a vibrant hub that embraces its global appeal while celebrating its heritage and history.

As a relatively young city, Dubai has borrowed inspiration from afar to shape its unique identity. But like an adolescent finding their place, it has emerged from a period of self-discovery, as a confident and assertive destination, ready to make its mark on the world.

Dubai’s born-and-raised residents—first generation and beyond—mirror this spirit too. With many having ventured abroad for education and experience, they’ve returned home, luring the rest of the world back with their warmth, confidence, and Emirati pride. Offering a half-filled cup of coffee is a customary, welcoming gesture symbolising the hope for a return visit and a top-up. I look forward to my refill of this dynamic city.

What to do:

Guide to Dubai Hazel Byrne

One of the best ways to quantify the scale of Dubai is to view it from a height. 150 metres in height,The Dubai Frame is an iconic landmark and viewing platform that offers a unique perspective of the city’s past, present, and future. As the name suggests, this towering, glistening gold structure resembles a colossal picture frame, protruding from the foundations of Zabeel Park. From the partly glass-floored sky deck, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of both the historic and modern elements of Dubai. Downstairs, there’s an exhibition that showcases Dubai’s transformation from a small fishing village to a global metropolis. On a clear day, the horizon extends into the desert, beyond the upcoming development of South Dubai and beyond.

It’s one thing to see Dubai and another to taste it. Frying Pan Adventures provide guided food tours that take you off the beaten path, discovering hidden street food gems in neighbourhoods like Deira, Satwa, and Al Fahidi. Led by founders and sisters, Arva and Farida Ahmed, these local experts offer a taste of traditional Emirati cuisine, as well as flavours from Indian, Iranian, and Pakistani cultures. Try everything from Chips Oman, the favourite local crisp, to proper chai tea, tandoor oven-cooked breads and even camel milk chocolate. Lap up the snacks, smells, colours and sounds of the Dubai souks and part ways with a newfound insight into the city and its people

Guide to Dubai Hazel Byrne

For a cook-it-yourself taste of traditional Emirati cuisine and a rolling masterclass in Emirati hospitality, a visit to Al Khayma Heritage Restaurant is a must. At this cultural gem, you can eat regional food to your heart’s content and learn how to cook it too. Traditional classics like Chicken Machboos, a spiced rice, chicken and vegetable speciality, are taught step-by-step on the roof-top by very skilled (and patient) chefs. Once you’ve hung up your apron, enjoy the fruits of your labour as you’re served your finest attempts. Add complementary delicacies from the Bib Gourmand-rated menu to the spread like Fattoush salad, tabbouleh and labneh. Don’t leave without trying the regag: filled crêpe-like breads or the luqaimat, deep-fried dough balls, glazed in date syrup with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

Guide to Dubai Hazel Byrne

Intrigued by the swathes of desert and dunes that surround Dubai? A Desert Safari by Platinum Heritage Dubai is an extraordinary adventure, taking travellers on a captivating journey through the enchanting Arabian Desert. With a government-led commitment to preserving the region’s cultural heritage and natural beauty, Platinum Heritage offers a unique and sustainable experience within the confines of a 225 square kilometre conservation zone. Once beyond the reserve’s gates, the only indication of human influence are man-made, mirage-esque watering holes brimming with algae-eating fish, some troughs to feed the gazelles and antelope, and if you squint, a monumental solar-panelled tower, shimmering in the distance. A desert safari is a great way to see what once was and provides ample opportunity to pause, take a moment of gratitude and genuflection towards the Gods of air-conditioning before high-tailing it back into the temperate 4×4.

Guide to Dubai Hazel Byrne

Back in the city, at the famed Gold and Spice Souks, take an Abra ride across Dubai Creek to the Al Fahidi neighbourhood. Predominantly built with coral, limestone, and mud, the area showcases the past influences of pearling, the Indian Ocean trade and provides a glimpse into the city’s rich history and formative years. Visitors can explore landmarks like the Ruler’s Court Mosque and Al Farooq Mosque, which are open to the public. In the Hindu Quarter and Indian Souk, a mosque and a Hindi temple sit side by side, demonstrating the coexistence of different faiths in Dubai. This vibrant neighbourhood is a testament to the city’s multiculturalism and is well worth a visit.

Where to eat

Guide to Dubai Hazel Byrne

When it comes to dining in Dubai, the city offers a staggering array of options to choose from. Approximately 13,000 of them. Recognised by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Orfali Bros Bistro is renowned for its seamless fusion of flavours and locally-sourced ingredients. Head chef Mohammad Orfali, business partner and sibling of pastry chefs, Wassim and Omar, describes their cuisine as “Orfalese” or “community cuisine”. Their menu is community-friendly by design too, offering a mix of grilled plates and savoury mezze for (reluctant) sharing. Highlights include a Thai-inspired pomelo and herb salad, tuna with pickled Lebanese seaweed and a Syrian wagyu beef skewer with sour cherry, cinnamon, pine nuts and parsley. Dessert, a course worthy of its own write-up, is quite literally the cherry on top of this culinary fantasy come true. Whatever your length of stay in Dubai, Orfali Bros Bistro is one for the wishlist.

Avatara, a Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant, offers an innovative take on Indian cuisine, with a menu that changes seasonally and showcases traditional ingredients in a contemporary way. Newly-crowned with its first Michelin star, Chef Rahul Rana and team couldn’t be more deserving. Their 16-course tasting menu is a gourmet spectacle that induces unadulterated joy and a universal sense of nostalgia, despite being so inspired by the team’s respective childhoods and Indian vernacular. A sitting here unleashes all of “the feels”. It’s poetic, emotional and almost-religious in experience. Garlic and onion, two fundamentals of most savoury Indian recipes, are continuously and outrightly banned from the changing menu to allow their other digestible peers to shine.

Guide to Dubai Hazel Byrne

BOCA is a leafy green oasis sequestered within the concrete jungle of Dubai’s financial district, the DIFC. Renowned for its sustainable ethos, they garnered their first Green Michelin star in May 2023. Chef Patricia Roiga and team prioritise local produce, waste management, renewable energy, carbon emission reporting and community sustainability. Standout dishes on their Mediterranean-inspired menus are plentiful here but their Garden in the Desert is the ultimate representation of BOCA’s cuisine, ethos and general vibe. A rainbow-on-a-plate, it includes an arrangement of aged beetroot, other whole, pickled and puréed seasonal vegetables, topped with native Arabian desert plants and edible flowers. It’s doubtful that there’ll be any but taking away leftovers is highly encouraged.

Guide to Dubai Hazel Byrne

If a more casual dining experience is on the cards, Time Out Market, Dubai is the place to go. A street food market on steroids, a cathedral-esque vestibule greets tourists and locals on entry to a world of globally-inspired, budget-friendly sustenance. Shadowed by the world’s tallest building to date, the Burj Khalifa, this gourmet institution is ideally placed to catch the revellers of the adjacent Dubai Mall, another feat of ultra-Dubai engineering. 17 unique vendors offer the perfect antidote to the international chains and household names that line the multiple corridors of the colossal shopping centre, that’s also worth a visit, if just to quantify its scale.

Where to stay

The Dubai outpost of German-founded boutique chain, 25 Hours, exudes a bohemian-luxe atmosphere; blending nomadic influences and old-world charm with bougie modernity. Priorities depending, cosy spots are peppered throughout the building that serve equally as ‘gram-worthy vignettes or just a quiet corner for a quick call home. Designed by Woods Bagot, guest rooms and suites at this financial district hotspot range from luxurious to uber-luxurious. Up-top, the hotel boasts a rooftop pool, wellness centre, a shisha garden and the very cool Monkey Bar. If that’s not enough to fill 24 hours, enjoy the “extra” hour at the 25th Hour Spa and don’t miss out on an appointment with Mani, the top-notch masseuse. Back to business on the lower levels, the double-height foyer doubles as a co-working space, while the ground floor houses Tina Tandoori, a lavish breakfast room, a Bavarian-themed biergarten and a charming courtyard with further chill-out zones and loungers.

Guide to Dubai Hazel Byrne

The Arabian Desert was once a Bedouin stomping ground. Today, the only nomads sleeping over are most likely celebrating a big birthday or special anniversary and are doing so in their individual suite with a private pool. Al Maha Resort & Spa, part of The Luxury Collection by Marriott, is a real-life oasis of calm. Roughly an hour’s drive from downtown Dubai, the resort offers unrivalled vistas of the desert with the added advantage of perpetual air con. Completely surreal and atmospheric, it’s the ideal backdrop for a future series of The White Lotus or an equally chic whodunnit. Food-wise, their spread is reminiscent of Dubai’s culinary smörgåsbord, including everything from eggs benedict, to shakshuka, to dim sum and that’s just for breakfast. Given its remote positioning, the resort is naturally all-inclusive. A jaunt into the desert in search of a snack is highly inadvisable, but should necessity dictate, the desert houses edible plants that feature atop of many chef’s tables in Dubai’s finest establishments. Just do your homework on what’s safe to consume first.

Emirates Airlines fly from Dubin to Dubai twice-daily. Their all-inclusive, economy lead-in fare is EUR 639. (Subject to availability. Valid for sale until August 24th, 2023 and for travel until December 9th, 2023)

Article by Hazel Byrne
Hazel Byrne

The Taste Guide: The Alternative Guide to Dubai for Foodies

Hazel Byrne is a lifestyle, travel and food writer and editor. Originally from Ireland, she’s just returned home after almost a decade of eating and drinking her way around London. Over four of those years were spent at Condé Nast, where she worked across editorial and branded content on titles including British VogueVanity Fair,GQGlamour and Condé Nast Traveller. From reviewing the world’s finest luxury experiences to producing celebrity shoots and events, she has a story or two to tell. When she’s not eating, drinking or talking about doing both, she’s plotting her next adventure.

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